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A Brightness Long Ago
by Guy Gavriel Kay
Berkley Books, $27; 422pp.
Published: May 2019

Ah, another well-written book from Kay set in the world of Sarantium. This precedes the events in Kay’s previous novel, “Children of Earth and Sky”.  This novel is so satisfying, like a slow enjoyable amble through lengthening shadows on a summer’s eve. The light cuts shadows into orange stripes, dust chuffs under your feet, the air is redolent of plants burned by the noon day sun: sage, bay leaf, the tang of citrus.

Kay sets his superlative tale in a just left-of-center creation based on Renaissance Italy and its constantly feuding city states. All the major sites in Kay’s Batiara have the flavor of the important Italian city states.  The story wanders from city state to city state as their lords vie for power and strength and shipping rights over others. Dynastic marriages are alliances between uneasy leaders. Campaigns are planned for spring, the easiest time to move a great many men and heavy cannons across the land. Ancient Sarantium far off to the east is being besieged by the Asharites.  But in Batiara the wheel turns. War and treachery come with the seasons.

There are several characters of note here. First is Guidanio Cerro - a man in the wrong place at the wrong time, or so it seems at first look. He is a servant to Uberto, The Beast of Mylasia.

Guidanio meets an assassin in the shadows one terrible night. Adria Ripoli, having been brought to the Beast for tortuous play, has murdered Uberto, escaping with a deep stab wound in the leg.

Guidanio and she escape Uberto’s palace during the ensuing chaos and part ways. But both are profoundly moved by their chance meeting.

Guidanio becomes a bit of a wanderer. He really wants to settle with a family member in Seressa and become a bookseller. But fate, or the hand of Jad, the god whom the west worships, turn his travels to other things.  He crosses paths with another warlord who plays a big part in this novel, Teobaldo Monticola. By being clever in solving a small problem for Monitcola on the road, he is asked to join the lord’s company on its way to Bischio and the grand annual horse race they have in the city square (based on the biannual Palio in Sienna, Italy).

Throughout the novel we constantly move from warlord Monticola and his arch nemesis, mercenary Folco Cino d’Acorsi. Then we may stay with Adria Ripoli a while or follow the woman who healed her terrible knife wound, Jelena. There’s also the charming Antenami Sardi, the son of an influential banker in Firenta.

The weaving of these tales is just seamless, and Guidanio is the master weaver. The events that the characters are involved in are equally momentous and small though charged with importance in the grander scheme of things.  There is death and romance…the horse race is utterly thrilling and the movement of history through Batiara and finally in far off Sarantium brings us to a harrowing finish.

A really terrific addition to Kay’s oeuvre. ~~ Sue Martin

For more titles by Guy Gavriel Kay click here

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